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How Limiting Your Google Queries Makes You a Better Link Prospector

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subtracting-123456789-246913578It would be great if Google could understand (or wanted to understand) that when I search [CRM intitle:"guest post"] I need 500 sites likely to publish CRM-related guest posts for a client this month. Instead I'll get 3-10 decent prospects and start thinking of a new query.

As a link prospector I find this to be the core problem of using Google for prospect sourcing - the relevance of my prospects diminishes significantly after the top 10-20 results... And going beyond the top 20 results increases time spent qualifying without justifiable returns.

With conversion rates being what they are these days (I'm pleased by 10-15% conversion for guest posting and 3% for broken link building) you can start to back into why these low numbers of usable prospects is a big problem for large-scale campaigns that have high levels of monthly link commitments.

Approaching a "fix" for this problem (besides just "more queries" which is of course basically the answer) requires thinking through why Google returns so few usable prospects in the top 20 for a single query. My belief is that Google intends to deliver a few "best" answers rather than to provide page-after-page of great possibilities... They provide a mass-use tool for the "average searcher" who wants to "search and go" rather than a specialized research tool for someone who wants hundreds or even thousands of possible answers.

Think of the fix like this: systematically and thoroughly alter your queries and force or "restrict" Google to provide new and still-relevant results in the top 20s that you would otherwise have never seen.

To see what I mean, compare [crm guest post] to the more restricted query in the first paragraph above. There is some domain overlap, but overall we have a large number of new domains that you should consider for placing content.

I hold that there are three key ways to force usable, 20 result "segments" out of Google's insanely huge index:

  • Research phrases.
  • Advanced operators.
  • Tactic-specific footprints.

Let's dig into each one of these and look at ways to build out thorough-as-possible prospecting query lists. Note: based on our query above [CRM intitle:"guest post"], "CRM" is the research phrase, "intitle:" is the advanced operator and "guest post" is your tactic-specific footprint.

1. Research Phrase List Building

The research phrase is what directs Google in the general vicinity of your topic. It pays to spend time brainstorming and developing out large lists of research phrases (though tildes can help with this immensely). 

So following from our CRM example above you should definitely include "customer relationship management" both with and without quotes. NOTE: I always create query batches with and without quotes as they often help float new prospects. I also tried [~crm -crm] and saw "call centers."

Now, when I looked at the results for our CRM guest posting query I saw that many of them were about "social CRM," and a few were on small business blogs... these also suggest avenues for prospecting so long as we can tailor content to fit the specific vertical.

So here's our working list of research phrases for CRM-related guest post opportunities:

  • CRM
  • customer relationship management
  • "customer relationship management"
  • ~crm
  • call center
  • "call center"
  • social crm
  • "social crm"
  • small business crm
  • "small business" crm
  • business crm

Now it's on to our list of "tactic specific footprints."

2. Tactic-Specific Footprint Lists

"Footprints" are any word or phrase that commonly occurs on the kind of page that represents a prospect to you. I call them tactic-specific footprints because ideally you keep them organized by tactic so you can reuse them in the future, and continue to add to them as you find new ones.

You can build out your footprint lists by closely examining "definite yes prospects" and looking for patterns. For example, in guest posting it's common to include the phrase "about the author." It's so common that it's a solid little footprint in its own right. That said, simply [guest post], with and without quotes, are highly productive as well.

You should also check out some of Ann Smarty's guest post footprints. Here are some of the more common guest posting footprints to combine with the research phrases above:

  • guest post
  • "guest post"
  • "about the author"
  • "write for us"
  • "blog for us"
  • "guest blog for us"
  • "guest blogger"
  • guest blogger
  • guest contributor
  • "guest contributor"
  • "this is a guest post"

This is by no means an exhaustive list for guest posting, but it certainly provides an excellent starting point especially if combined with Ann's suggestions linked to above. And now let's take a peek at advanced operators... These are the real power behind these "forced segments."

3. Advanced Search Operators

If you're unfamiliar with advanced search operators, check out this list. Not all of them will be useful to link prospectors, but they're worth understanding because the best ones enable you to restrict the results enough to pinch off another 5-10 useful prospects. Here are the ones I use the most:

  • intitle: Use this operator to restrict results to documents that contain your phrase in the title tags. It's typically only conscientious or SEO-oriented webmasters who provide useful information in their title tags so this can be a great way to filter.
  • inurl: Similar in useage to intitle - inurl enables you restrict your results based on what appears in the URL.
  • site: I primarily use this operator to restrict by TLD. For example, if a query contains site:.edu it will bring back sites with a TLD of .edu.
  • ~ (synonyms): The tilde operator provides help with brainstorming. I wrote about tildes in link prospecting here.
  • * (wildcard): The wild card is useful for "filling in the blanks" on your research phrase and footprint brainstorming. For example you could type "guest post*" and that would include "guest post," "guest posts," "guest posting," "guest posters," etcetera... Wildcard can combine with other operators... For example: [~wild*].
  • - (minus): The minus operator enables you to remove specific words that you know indicate a non-opportunity. For example, if your CRM (customer relationship managment) results get cluttered with composite risk management results you could type [CRM -composite] to remove them. Minus combines with other operators.
  • intext: Intext specifies that the word or phrase MUST appear in the text of the page.
  • "" (exact phrase): I use this all the time, almost without thinking about it. It's a very useful restriction that tells Google to return an exact match of the phrase in quotes.

It's important to note that not all advanced operators will be productive in combination with all the research phrases and opportunity footprints. This is where experience will help you the most. Further, in my experience I use intitle, inurl, and tildes the most.

Next up we'll look at a huge list of combined queries so you can get a sense of what it will take to get a useful number of prospects for a CRM guest posting campaign.

4. Queries in Action

To get a solid list of guest posting opportunities - enough for a month at least I hope - I combined the following research phrases, operators and footprints:

Research Phrases:

  • CRM
  • customer relationship management
  • "customer relationship management"
  • ~crm
  • call center
  • "call center"
  • social crm
  • "social crm"
  • small business crm
  • "small business" crm
  • business crm

Operators + Footprints:

  • guest post
  • "guest post"
  • "about the author"
  • "write for us"
  • "blog for us"
  • "guest blog for us"
  • "guest blogger"
  • guest blogger
  • guest contributor
  • "guest contributor"
  • "this is a guest post"
  • intitle:contributor
  • inurl:contributor
  • intitle:guest
  • inurl:guest
  • intitle:"guest post"
  • inurl:"guest post"
  • intitle:"write for us"
  • inurl:"write for us"

This netted me more than 200 queries to run. I scraped the top 10 results for each query and found 581 domains to check out. And that's only starting to scratch the surface...

If I look 20 results deep I find 1,042 unique domains. I could also dig deeper to find more operators, footprints and research phrases and, if this were a campaign I was running, I'd have to... On a monthly basis.


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